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The Reichstag Mosque?

July 5th, 2010 by Jim May · 15 Comments · Uncategorized

It’s time I weighed in on on the Great NY Mosque controversy at this point in time.

I wish to note that there are in fact, two huge issues at play for me in this discussion.

The first is the issue itself, which is the debate over whether we should support the immediate use of certain innately arbitrary legal powers (zoning laws) by government in order to stop the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero.  I will discuss this issue here.

The second issue, is how Objectivists handle disagreements like this.  That’s of greater long-range interest to me, and I will address it at some point; however, that will have to wait until I have gathered all the data and the discussion has more-or-less played out.

The very quick summary, to set the initial direction, is this:  I am in agreement for now with Paul and Diana Hsieh, in their posts here and here, and the reader may wish to also note my comments there.

For the Record:  I remain open to being convinced that the construction of the mosque represents a sufficiently immediate and pronounced danger to our liberty and country, that it should be stopped by *any* available means.

As yet, I have not yet seen the countervailing argument that meets the necessary conditions: to wit, that demonstrates a grasp of the opposing argument.  I have chosen to respond to this post by New Clarion co-blogger Embedded I to illustrate and clarify my position.

Writes Embedded I:

Against all of the above, cries to protect American property rights will be as a tea cup in a tornado. Those rights are so woozy now, it is better to stop the insidious horde at every turn, perhaps through well defined, vigorously enforced, peacetime anti-sedition laws.

This is the point I have raised elsewhere: when the principled response to the islamic threat — declaration of war and decisive action by our government — is off the table, decisions like this become tactical in nature: tactical decisions, by nature, are very pragmatic, and principled only in the most basic sense: life or death.

As I have noted elsewhere, decisions like these are analogous to deciding which of two assailants in a street fight to focus on at any given moment: the nearer one with the knife, or the accomplice some distance away who is loading a shotgun.  The *only* relevant guiding principle is immediate survival.

In this case, since the government is defaulting on its proper role (the safeguarding of a civilized order, where such things as property rights hold sway), we are placed in the position of considering the lesser of two choices, both of which are rotten when seen in the light of derivative principles, but nonetheless necessary.  Choices like this are of an emergency nature, like medical triage, and involve tradeoffs (NOT “sacrifices”) that morally we should never be asked to make.

In this case, the alternative we face is the following: permitting the enemy a symbolic success as Embedded I describes here, versus interdicting that symbol at the cost of emboldening the statists, our enemies in *this* country — and of further sanctioning the accelerating expansion of an out-of-control State.

Doing the latter vis-a-vis Islam bothers me a hell of a lot, for this reason:

“The dissolution of parties, the prohibition of public speeches — these were strangely violent measures of the state in defense of freedom. ‘The freest constitution in the world’ did not officially provide or allow for such brutal intervention of police power. But Hitler and his like had for years filled the country with violence murder and destruction, and the state has not found the strength to suppress them with the cold majesty of law; and now, having unjustly spared them, the state could no longer defend itself except by injustice. Where Hitler began to speak, murder could be expected as a result. Hitler forced the state to stretch the laws in a rather arbitrary way — this in itself was a success. When he attacked, a few drops of his own poisonous spirit dripped on the enemy and infected him. In all points of his career, in the most insignificant and the most important situations, this was his most dangerous power, though unfortunately least understood: that he lured or forced his opponent to imitate him, to use similar methods and even adopt the qualities which he really wanted to combat in Hitler.”

–Konrad Heiden, “Der Fuehrer”, 1944 Houghton-Mifflin edition, p261-262.  Emphasis mine.

That is my concern, which has not been addressed to my satisfaction anywhere, though it has at least been acknowledged as existing.

On the issue of the danger posed by Islam:  I am already sold on that point.  But that is only half of an argument.  Assuming a priori that my disagreement follows from my ignorance or failure to appreciate the Islamic threat, is not the other half.

I need to know that those who wish to stop the mosque are cognizant of the problems attendant upon squashing the mosque, that they too are fully informed.

For one thing, no one has addressed the egregious legal problems and precedents brought about by permitting war powers to a government that has not declared war — not the least of which is the consequent legal indeterminacy of when such powers are to end. How long is this to last?  Should we put out this fire at the risk of laying down tinder for who knows how many Reichstag fires in the future?

After all, the never-ending war against an indeterminate enemy is a known hallmark of tyranny, as dramatized in Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, and as seen in the propagandas of tyrannies both long gone and current.

There is ample demonstration from history of how an external enemy can be used by internal forces aspiring to destroy liberty.  Much as Hitler exploited the threat of Communist tyranny to enact his own version thereof, those statist elements in America — of which there are no shortage — are perfectly happy to use arbitrary State power to stop the mosque, thereby setting the precedent for them to use later against enemies of their choice.

After all, would that not be a rather powerful symbol itself?   Look, the Americans are so scared of Islamists that it is willing to contradict its own supposed principles,  to use similar methods and even adopt the qualities which he really wanted to combat in [Islam]!

Who do you think would be emboldened by that symbolism?

Note this line from Ed Cline:

We are living in an unprecedented time, when this country is under attack by secular jihadists in the White House, and religious ones from Mecca and Medina, both sides demanding unquestioning obedience from Americans, and no one is doing much about it. This is the larger picture — an aerial photograph of the battlefield, if you will — that must be grasped. It is and it is not about “property rights.”

I need to know why Ed considers Faisal Rauf to be objectively more dangerous than actual jihadists in the White House (!)

And again: I have read the words of our own Myrhaf, Embedded I, Amy Peikoff (twice) and , and their words are persuasive.  They have made their case on the nature and threat of Islam.  But without their comparative evaluation of the dangers of the alternative — of the “Weimar threat” as I have explained here — their argument is incomplete, and I cannot as yet accept their conclusions.

As Ed Matthews writes in a comment on yet another excellent post on this topic by Amy Peikoff:

I have no problem using nonobjective laws to shut down the mosque, on the grounds that it is a greater evil and more immediate threat than that posed by a US government even more capricious in violating our rights than it is at present

Okay.  I understand and accept this.  Make that case, then, please.  Why is the mosque “a greater evil and more immediate threat than that posed by a US government even more capricious in violating our rights than it is at present“?

15 Comments so far ↓

  • Ashley King

    Jim, I appreciate your worry about a Weimarian moment, especially after the last two years where Bush and Congress gave Treasury Secretary Paulson dictatorial powers, and now the Obama administration socializing medicine, nationalizing corporations, preparing carbon rationing, and promoting speech czars to the supreme court.

    There is one side that says that the retaliatory use of force must be under objective control. We don’t want to use arbitrary power when limits to power seem to be loosening so much lately. Specifically, the argument is that there is: 1, not enough evidence trying this mosque to terrorist activities to shut it down, and/or 2, without a declaration of war, a lower threshold of evidence for using retaliatory force would not be justified.

    Dr. Peikoff and others argue that the building of the mosque is an incitement to jihadi killers at a time we are actually at war with Islamist terrorists. Therefore, survival and self-preservation trump any alleged issue of property rights since we are, in fact, at war whether we officially recognize it or not.

    Personally, I think the mosque will encourage and give psychological support to jihadis, whether Rauf intends it that way or not. In a time of de facto war, I think it will be a deadly mistake.

    However, despite our government’s politically correct blindness that prevented us from seeing the conspiratorial acts of Major Hasan before he killed 13 at Fort Hood, I think we can point to actual evidence that Imam Rauf is up to no good, that he in fact is a jihadi sympathizer and supporter. Current, objective law therfore can be used if this is the case. The evidence of Rauf’s sneaky approach to jihad is:
    he refuses to call Hamas a terrorist organization;
    he uses the anniversary of 9/11 as the opening date of his mosque (triumphalism);
    he denies that Muslim terrorists were responsible for the 9/11 attacks;
    he buys a building specifically because it was damaged on 9/11;

    and especially this:
    he is connected with Muslim Brotherhood front groups;
    he is a donor to a so-called charity (Perdana Foundation) which is the major funder for the flotilla attacks on Israel;
    and these flotilla attacks are directly in support of Hamas in its campaign to destroy Israel.

    see for a good piece on Rauf.

    Rauf seems to fit the pattern of American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, or Gitmo cleric Abdurahman Alamoudi: one face for westerners, another different face for his jihadi allies. I think he can be stopped, therefore, with some good FBI investigation.

  • Ashley King

    Also, I didn’t mean to imply that Dr. Peikoff was saying that the retaliatory use of force must not be under objective control.

  • Inspector


    If I may, I’d like to posit a question: would you be in favor of a measure to declare war on our Islamic enemies and then subsequently shut down The Mosque? (or some similar arrangement of how a proper government ought to shut it down, if I my wording here is insufficient)

    The reason I ask is that is seems to me that this debate is being seen as a “shut down The Mosque vs allow the mosque to be built.” I think that may be inaccurate – really, I think both sides here believe – especially with the emergence of the evidence of Rauf’s terrorist connections and sympathies – that The Mosque ought to be stopped. The disagreement is simply about whether it would be worth it to use certain non-objective government laws to do it or not.

    I think the proponents of your side of this debate would do themselves a world of good in this if they made it clear that they are advocating: “Yes, we WOULD like it shut down, but not by means x.”

  • madmax

    Here is Ari Armstrong’s response for those who haven’t read it.

    He does an analysis and comes down for building the Mosque.

  • Jim May

    Inspector: Dr. Peikoff’s entire podcast rests on the premise that “we are at war” — and by implication, that the legalities involved with an actual declaration of war do not matter in such a context.

    Well, legalities are how we retain control over this huge instrument of destruction, which is the U.S. government and its military. For the same reasons I believe in gun control — losing control of your gun in a fight can be fatal — I am very concerned with maintaining control over our government, which at the moment is already quite slippery.

    However, seeing as the government is in fact rather out of control already, then for me it becomes a tactical decision. Kill the Mosque (with the risk of untold legal collateral damage and bad precedent) or focus on retaining and reestablishing control over the government (at the cost of emboldening the enemy).

    Bleah, what a lousy alternative.

    At the moment, Inspector, I would have to say yes to your question: if the issue of the undeclared war were cleared up, so that we were indeed legally “at war” with the Islamists in the same manner that we were at war with Japan in December 1941, then I’d lean towards stomping it flat.

    Note: I am not speaking for Paul Hsieh or other opponents, but the risks of losing further control over our own government are a central concern of his as well… so it might be worth asking him that question.

    madmax: thanks for the link. I don’t think I agree with Ari re: his position on the Shinto temple; given a declared war, I’d agree with Dr. Peikoff there.

    That being said, I should note that given a much healthier culture, such as we had in WWII, symbolism per se wouldn’t really amount to much; I just can’t see the hypothetical Shinto temple, or this mosque, making much of a difference. Letting them build it, in *that* context, could be seen as a different symbolism — that we are so confident, that we permit the mosque because it is beneath our notice as a threat.

    But this mosque, in this culture, and given the nature of the enemy? This is more of a schoolyard bully versus the big, but wimpy victim scenario. As any bully victim knows, they get stronger and more demanding with each sign of appeasement, but back down at the first sign of resolute defiance.

  • Neil Parille

    Major Hassan was (I believe) born outside the US. So weren’t all the 9/11 terrorists.

    Instead of bombing Iran or closing down the Cordoba mosque, let’s just stop Islamic immigration and deport all Moslems who are not citizens.

  • Neil Parille

    I think that should be “so were all the 9/11 terrorists.”

  • Jim May

    Major Hassan was (I believe) born outside the US. So weren’t all the 9/11 terrorists.

    So was I.

    Adam Gadahn, on the other hand, was born here.

    Instead of bombing Iran or closing down the Cordoba mosque, let’s just stop Islamic immigration and deport all Moslems who are not citizens.

    Did you even read this post? My dominant concern is the continued expansion of arbitrary government power, and your solution, of course, is to further expand this power.

    If there’s a case to be made for this on security grounds, fine… but the evidence shows that you’re just being a knee-jerk conservative on this one.

  • madmax

    Instead of bombing Iran or closing down the Cordoba mosque, let’s just stop Islamic immigration and deport all Moslems who are not citizens.

    This is becoming a main argument amongst Conservatives. The ideas is that Islam’s threat could be entirely eliminated if there we no Muslims in Western nations. The Paleo-Right is very big with this idea. The further idea is that the West should basically quarantine the Muslim Middle East and separate the Muslims there from non-Muslim humanity.

    These types of Conservatives view letting any Muslims into the West as suicidal “liberalism.” It may or may not become necessary to ban Muslim immigration and even to ban Islam itself (depending on how bad things get). But in the end, the entire conservative intellectual foundation is completely different from Objectivism/Classical Liberalism. Conservatives view a nation as a large family and the family should have the right to exclude non-family members. This is tribalism. Objectivism, as this debate shows, is wrestling with this problem from a non-tribalist, non-collectivist position. This is something Conservatives have absolutely no interest in. In fact, they have contempt for it as they are collectivist to their very core.

  • Jim May

    This is becoming a main argument amongst Conservatives.

    When all you have is a hammer…

  • Neil Parille

    Mr. Max,

    Liberalism is suicidal. Look at Mr. May: he won’t even admit that Moslem immigration is likely to lead to Moslem terrorism.

    For the record, I do oppose government action aimed at stopping the Cordoba mosque unless it can be shown that it is directly involved in promoting terrorism.

  • Steve D

    The *only* relevant guiding principle is immediate survival.

    No, the *only* relevant thing involved here is the proper inductive derivation and application of principle. In this case the principle of property rights. I would have thought that Objectivists of all people would realize that.

    The *only* question involved is whether the builder of the Mosque directly or indirectly intend and have the capability to violate my rights. I am still waiting for evidence that this is the case.

  • Inspector

    Steve, you said you are waiting for evidence that the Mosque builders directly or indirectly intend to violate your rights.

    Actually, such evidence has already surfaced – Rauf has already admitted support for a terrorist organization and that his ultimate intentions are to establish an Islamic theocratic state in America:

    (in the second link, the quote is right below the words “interfaith dialogue”)

    I believe those examples more than fulfill the criteria you stated.

  • Jim May

    No, the *only* relevant thing involved here is the proper inductive derivation and application of principle.

    That’s your approach to a situation where two men are trying to kill you? Good luck with that.

    I would have thought that Objectivists of all people would realize that.

    I would have thought that someone who fancies themselves qualified to question my Objectivism so lightly would know better than to do so while dropping the context so obviously. (The context of the line “The *only* relevant guiding principle is immediate survival” was a fight involving two men with deadly weapons).

  • Phoroneus

    In response to the exchange,

    No, the *only* relevant thing involved here is the proper inductive derivation and application of principle. -Steve D

    That’s your approach to a situation where two men are trying to kill you? Good luck with that.
    -Jim May

    Jim isn’t the proper inductive assesment the realization that men are trying to kill you and you should destroy them in defense of your life? The fact that such a derivation is done immediately does not change the fact that at some point you deduced the proper action. I agree that Steve D’s “I would have thought that Objectivists of all people would realize that.” is out of line, but let’s not lose ourselves, any of us, despite the history of strong responses among disagreeing Objectivists we need to start treating each other with more respect (I know you responded in kind Jim and I don’t disagree with it, this is my own general rant). Steve D you know that was out of line, Jim May has done good work and does not deserve such a disrespectful tone.

    Perhaps it is because none of us have to live near each other and don’t directly have to deal with the consequences of our easily riled anger, but one day we will. And before that day comes, if it is to come as it should, we should start setting the standard of respectful dialogue now. We are Objectivits damn it. Let the Christians, Muslims, Liberals, Conservatives and Libertarians be dragged down by the constant factional wars dictated by their flawed basic premises. We will have full understanding given our basic premises in due time, let’s not be at war with each other.